It feels a little…weird, doesn’t it? The thought of letting someone else read (and maybe even respond to) your email might feel a bit like an invasion of privacy, but it might just be the thing that saves your sanity when you’re facing email overload every morning.
And you don’t have to allow your assistant to read all your email – just a few select accounts. You do have a virtual assistant don’t you? If not then that is a whole other post, but let’s assume that you do or have a secretary. Read on.
Private vs. Business Email
Before you decide to outsource your email management, it’s a good idea to separate your personal from your business accounts. Your personal email address is the one you’ll give to your friends and family, your kid’s school, your bank, and anyone else who might send you either personal or confidential information.
Your business email is the one you’ll use for your help desk, affiliate programs, and other non-personal information. This is the one you’ll give to your assistant to read and respond to, if necessary. He or she should know enough about your business to be able to respond appropriately in most cases, but also know that anything she can’t handle should be forwarded to you for a response.
Using a Help Desk
Information product sellers, online retailers, and even coaches and virtual assistants might find it useful to set up a help desk. This is a great way to filter and organize conversations, particularly as they relate to products and customer service. Not only that, but you can easily have your assistant monitor the desk, relieving you of the responsibility.
One of the most popular options is ZenDesk, which is a bargain at just $20 per year. It’s a hosted platform, meaning there is nothing to install. Plus it allows for email piping, so the sending of an email to a designated address automatically creates a ticket. ZenDesk is super simple to set up and use, and will definitely help clear up your email inbox. You can also take a look at Freshdesk or a free option like Podio.
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You could also choose to set up your own help desk using one of the many free php scripts available. Like WordPress, these scripts install on your hosting account, and cost nothing to use. All of them allow you to maintain a ticket history, but some offer other features such as a FAQ page, email piping, and other goodies. Be sure to read the documentation for several before deciding. Some popular choices include osTicket and Hesk.
If you do decide to use a help desk – regardless of which one you choose – you’ll want to set up some systems for monitoring and maintaining it. At the very least, you’ll want someone to be in charge of all incoming tickets. That person is responsible for making sure that all tickets are answered in a timely manner, and that relevant information is added to the FAQ page. You may want to work out a system by which help requests are escalated to you (or a project manager) in case your help desk person isn’t able to answer, or doesn’t know how to respond to a particular request.
Digging out from under a pile of email can be tough, but if you get some help, you’ll be well on your way to an empty inbox, and that’s a great place to be.
Would you consider outsourcing your email? Let me know in the comments below.
And Make Productivity Painless
Imagine logging into your email and being able to see at a glance what needs attention right now, all the information related to your current projects, and a list of items you put away to read later. How much time would that save – just because you wouldn’t have to search for that email a potential client sent last week?
A whole lot, you can be sure. Sound like a pipe dream? It isn’t. All it takes is a little setup of folders and filters (or rules, as some email clients call them) and what looks like a dream setup becomes your new reality.
Planning Your Folder Setup
First things first, every modern email system supports some kind of folder structure. In Outlook and Mac Mail, for example, you can create folders within (or outside) your main “Inbox” folder. The same is true for free email providers such as Yahoo. Gmail uses their own naming system called “labels” instead. Labels act like folders, without cluttering up the interface. A few minutes with the help files for your email provider of choice should give you all the information you need to set up folders within your account.
Your business structure and the way you prefer to work will determine how you set up your folders. For example, you might want to create a folder for each client, for each project, or nested folders for both. You might even want folders titled “Requires Action” (for emails that contain to-do items) and “Requires Response” (for emails you need to answer). I have folders for each client project. I also have folders for specific aspects of my business for example: Affiliates, Business Learning, Business Coaching, etc.
Other helpful folders might be “Read Later” for newsletters you want to read, “Buy This” for sales emails that contain products you’re considering, and “Receipts” for things you’ve already purchased.
Using Automation Rules (Filters)
Once you have your folder structure set up, it’s time to add some rules to automatically file your incoming mail. That way, you don’t have to open the same email multiple times – you only have to look at it when you’re ready to work on that project or you’re looking for something to read.
Like folders, most modern email systems offer automation rules. You can set up rules to move incoming mail to a folder, flag it for easy location, or even delete it. Rules can be based on a number of different criteria, including sender address, subject, keywords, who it was sent to, and whether or not it contains an attachment.
The easiest way to set up rules (or filters, as they’re known in Gmail) is to build each one based on a piece of email you receive. For example, if you receive an email from a client to your Gmail box, and you want to file all future emails from her to the folder you’ve created, you would simply open the email, click the “More” button, and choose “Filter messages like these.” Then just follow the prompts. All future emails that match your filter criteria will be treated the same way. Outlook (formerly Hotmail) uses the “Sweep” feature to do the same thing.
Most other email systems have similar features. Again, a few minutes with the help files will have you creating rules to handle all your incoming mail. And once you’ve got your folders and filters set up, your email inbox will be a much cleaner, less stressful place.
Do you use filters and folders in your email system? Let me know in the comments below.